Alan Titchmarsh on emailing Government to reopen garden centres: Michael Gove replied in ’20 minutes, Boris was a little longer’

Alan is used to mixing with the powerful, having interviewed both Prince Charles and the late Duke of Edinburgh (Picture: Getty)

Presenter and celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh, 72, on petitioning politicians and interviewing royals.

You’re hosting the Grand Christmas Classics concerts — what can people expect?

Yes, in Manchester, Birmingham and at London’s Barbican. A lot of people say these concerts are the start of their Christmas. It’s the favourite carols, from Silent Night to O Come, All Ye Faithful, with me linking and doing readings in between. It’s a classic way of putting yourself into the Christmas spirit, particularly as we all missed out last year.

Will you sing too?

I’ll be singing but only with a lot of other people singing as well. There are no plans to treat audiences to a solo. They might expect a reduction in ticket price if I did! It will be quite emotional to hear a full orchestra, I think, not just as a presenter but for the audience as well. It really will be welcome back to your life, everybody! My wife Alison and I are great theatregoers and being of a certain age we’ve just been a bit careful so this will be so lovely.

What did lockdown prevent you from doing?

Alan in his garden for Grow Your Own at Home, filmed during lockdown by his wife (Picture: ITV)

We’ve all been starved of hugs and socialising. We had four people around for supper last week, the first time in ages. But if a programme has your name on it, you’ve got to be there. If I go down with Covid, I put 50 people out of work. I’m just aware of a responsibility, not only to my family but also to the people I work with.

Your wife filmed your ITV lockdown series, Grow Your Own At Home, didn’t she?

She did. She’s never even taken a snap on her iPhone before! Now she’s become a qualified camerawoman, she’s become very critical of TV camerawork.

Had your garden never looked better during lockdown?

I lost quite a bit of weight in that first lockdown — about half a stone! It’s piled back on since, of course. We really got stuck into our veggie patch and have doubled the size of it now.

Has Covid changed people’s attitudes towards their garden?

I hope it’s opened their eyes to the benefits of having a little patch of earth, even if it’s only a balcony. Veggie growing has really taken off. But with Cop26, there’s a great danger that everybody thinks climate change is something that’s on such a scale, only governments can make a difference.

Titchmarsh successfully persuaded Boris Johnson and his Government to reopen garden centres during the second lockdown (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Garden centres must love you for making their case during the pandemic. They were closed during the first lockdown but not the second…

Not only was the nursery stock in danger of decaying but also, when we came out of lockdown, the stock would not be available in the UK so we would have needed foreign imports. If you can grow stuff at home, you can monitor plant health and diseases more effectively.

Is it true Boris Johnson and Michael Gove replied within minutes of you emailing to ask that they reopen them?

Michael Gove was 20 minutes, Boris was a little longer. I’m not a moaner but I felt so strongly about it. It was also far easier to keep social distancing protocols in place outdoors in a garden centre.

Did you write any books in lockdown?

Have you been talking to my wife?! Yes, novel number 12, which is coming out in February. I’ve been offered another two-book deal but I think 12 is a nice round number — should I stop there?

Of all that you’ve done, what are you most proud of?

That I have a family that’s all speaking to each other. It sounds a bit twee but that matters. And doing my bit for greening the country.

Alan thinks his interview with the late Prince Philip went slightly better than Fiona Bruce’s did (Picture: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock)

What’s been your most pinch-yourself moment?

Making a garden for Nelson Mandela 20 years ago was very special. I didn’t expect to get the MBE, which I got in 2000. It’s nice to have a pat on the back.

More: Metro newspaper

What did you learn about Prince Charles from walking around his garden?

Gardens are so individual and he’s so passionate about his. We have moans together about slugs as well, so we’re all human. Slugs are no respecters of rank.

You’ve said Prince Philip was reluctant to be interviewed…

Yes, and he wrote me the sweetest letter saying, ‘As you probably realised, being interviewed is not my favourite occupation.’

I like to think I fared slightly better than Fiona Bruce. We have this exclusive club because we both did 90th birthday interviews with him and I think Fiona came off even worse.

Talking to Princess Anne, she said, ‘It’s not just you, he won’t even tell us about what happened in the war.’ He would never put himself in front of the Queen, he saw his job as a supporter, not the main turn. The moment the interview was finished, he showed me the bit of Windsor Castle he’d restored after the fire and he was charming and lovely.

Grand Christmas Classics tours from December 9, see raymondgubbay.co.uk


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